Background: Seven genes involved in folate metabolism are located on chromosome 21. Previous studies have shown that folate deficiency may contribute to mental retardation in Down's syndrome (DS).
Methodology: We investigated the effect of oral folate supplementation (daily dose of 1.0+/-0.3 mg/kg) on cognitive functions in DS children, aged from 3 to 30 months. They received 1 mg/kg leucovorin or placebo daily, for 12 months, in a single-centre, randomised, double-blind study. Folinic acid (leucovorin, LV) was preferred to folic acid as its bioavailability is higher. The developmental age (DA) of the patients was assessed on the Brunet-Lezine scale, from baseline to the end of treatment.
Results: The intent-to-treat analysis (113 patients) did not show a positive effect of leucovorin treatment. However, it identified important factors influencing treatment effect, such as age, sex, and concomitant treatments, including thyroid treatment in particular. A per protocol analysis was carried out on patients evaluated by the same examiner at the beginning and end of the treatment period. This analysis of 87 patients (43 LV-treated vs. 44 patients on placebo) revealed a positive effect of leucovorin on developmental age (DA). DA was 53.1% the normal value with leucovorin and only 44.1% with placebo (p<0.05). This positive effect of leucovorin was particularly strong in patients receiving concomitant thyroxin treatment (59.5% vs. 41.8%, p<0.05). No adverse event related to leucovorin was observed.
Conclusion: These results suggest that leucovorin improves the psychomotor development of children with Down's syndrome, at least in some subgroups of the DS population, particularly those on thyroxin treatment.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov, NCT00294593.